Deceptive Promises: The Meaning of MOOCs-Hype for Higher Education

Deceptive Promises: The Meaning of MOOCs-Hype for Higher Education

Stefan Popenici
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8324-2.ch009
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Since 2011, massive open online courses (MOOCs) fired the imagination of the general public as well as the academics, university administrators and investors alike. This chapter is an analysis of the main promises and expectations associated with MOOCs in higher education. This analysis is largely informed by a literature review of new extensive research reports, press releases, media articles, scholarly blogs and academic papers. Considering costs and benefits, ethical aspects and the impact on the landscape of higher education, the author explores whether MOOCs stay consistent with their initial promises and rhetoric. This chapter continues the discussion on the book section ‘RIA and education practice of MOOCs,' with the particular focus on the topic of ‘educational training design.'
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The Mooc Fervour: Generous Ideals And Prosaic Realities

Since the acronym became popular in 2011, MOOCs were predominantly described through the extensive use of strong metaphors that seem to be more suitable to express the amplitude of the change they bring to higher education. We find Massive Open Online Courses expressed in terms associated with natural disasters, from ‘tsunami’ to an ‘avalanche’ or ‘earthquake.’ Proponents of MOOCs promised that this particular solution will completely reshape the landscape of higher education across the world. MOOCs are – commentators said - a ‘tsunami of change’ that “is coming, whether you like it or not” (McKenna, 2012).

The year of 2012 was marked by the firm prediction of a historic transformation through the MOOC, promoted with compulsive passion as the solution for all problems faced by higher education. The promise was unprecedented: underprivileged students from all parts of the world have the possibility for the first time in history to get access to higher education and study at some of the most respectable – and expensive – universities of the world, as gates of knowledge finally stay unguarded for the first time in history. The New York Times published at the end of 2012 an article creatively titled ‘Year of the MOOC’ (Papanno, 2012), and David Brooks and Thomas Friedman wrote enthusiastic op-eds about the MOOC ‘revolution,’ the ‘tsunami’ that will undoubtedly transform all universities (Brooks, 2012; Friedman, 2013). The Economist – along with other financial publications that seem to discover suddenly an in-depth expertise in pedagogy and higher education – followed the same line, with articles with titles such as “Free education - Learning new lessons. Online courses are transforming higher education, creating new opportunities for the best and huge problems for the rest” (The Economist, 2012). This op-ed offers a perfect sample of the type of thinking fuelling the general excitement:

MOOCs are more than good university lectures available online. The real innovation comes from integrating academics talking with interactive coursework, such as automated tests, quizzes and even games. Real-life lectures have no pause, rewind (or fast-forward) buttons [...] MOOCs enrich education for rich-world students, especially the cash-strapped, and those dissatisfied with what their own colleges are offering. But for others, especially in poor countries, online education opens the door to yearned-for opportunities. (The Economist, 2012)

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